The star-studded offense of the Oakland Raiders led the way, but the contributions from special teams was just as integral to the success of the team in 2016.
The Oakland Raiders 2016 season was monumental, emerging from the bowels of obscurity after 14 long seasons. The Raiders exceeded the expectations of many, posting a winning record (12-4) and a trip to the playoffs, both firsts since their 2002 Super Bowl appearance.
While quarterback Derek Carr and linebacker Khalil Mack get all the acclaim, the unheralded guys were just as important. Punters and Kickers usually aren’t household names, but the Raiders have two that are. Not to mention a set of gunners that raised hell on kickoff and punts all season.
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Let’s start with the kicker, “The Polish Cannon” that is Sebastian Janikowski.
2016 served as a revival of the “Seabass” of old. Janikowski nailed 29 field goals, the most since he has made since 2012. Janikowski’s 56-yard field goal in Week 5 against the Chargers tied for 6th longest this season. On kickoffs, Jano averaged 64 yards per kick, tied for 4th best in the league. Not bad for a 38-year old in his 16th season.
Being an African-American punter would be enough to garner attention to Marquette King, as he is the only black punter in the league currently, and one of the few the NFL has ever had. Nevertheless, King has become a household name behind his leg, his dancing skills, and his social media savvy.
Statistically, Marquette finished in the Top 5 in every major punting category. King was an essential assistant to the lowly Raiders defense, regularly pinning opponents deep in their own territory. His 36 punts inside the 20-yard line rank him fifth among punters.
And then there are the gunners, the guys that make the plays that make or break a team’s field position.
In the offseason, Oakland signed linebacker Daren Bates and safety Brynden Trawick — both of whom had been key special teams contributors with their previous teams. And both made an immediate impact on special teams, racking up tackles and pinning teams deep in their own territory.
Trawick, in particular, tied for 4th best in the NFL with 15 special teams tackles. For much of the season, he actually was leading the entire league in this category.
Wide receivers Johnny Holton and Andre Holmes as well as running back Taiwan Jones rounded out Oakland’s treacherous special teams unit. Holton and Holmes each ranked in the Top 25 — with 12 and 11 tackles, respectively.
It wouldn’t be special teams without returns, and rookie running back Jalen Richard proved to be deadly. Richard’s racked up 374 punt return yards, ranking second. His strong performance in the return game earned him recognition as an alternate to the Pro Bowl.
All-around, Oakland’s special teams unit was highly effective on both sides of the ball. As the offseason gets underway, Trawick, Bates and Holmes are all unrestricted free agents. Plenty of focus for Oakland will be on improving defensively, but keeping the special teams unit intact should also be an important focus of Reggie McKenzie.